How to Build a Thriving & Fulfilling Author Platform From Scratch
Learn from my experiences as a professional writer, author, and platform manager who grew everything from nothing.
As I’ve worked and grown as a writer, I’ve noticed that many of my fellow creators are deeply intimidated by the concept of building and sustaining a platform of their own. Terms like SEO and engagement metrics send most writers running for the hills…but it doesn’t have to be that way.
That’s why I’m putting my experience into this article to demystify the platform-building process. With it, you’ll have the tools and know-how to reach an audience, build relationships with your readers, and get yourself into a mindset that will support your growth for years to come.
So, What Is an Author Platform, Anyway?
There are many ways to define this nebulous concept, but I like the way author and brand expert David Gaughran put it.
“An author platform is a writer’s collective presence on the internet.”
Simple and succinct, right? Well, sort of. As you can imagine, there are many, many ways an author can put their presence out on the internet.
Whether it’s via their own website and related pages or through social media platforms like Facebook, a writer has many options to choose from when it comes to making their mark.
It Starts With a Mission
Before we even talk about social media accounts or blog writing, we need to look into the foundation of what an author platform is meant to be. That foundation is, well, you.
You, the writer with a mission, with a dream!
What is it you hope to achieve as a writer? As an author? Is it simply to make money? I hope not, because there are far more lucrative paths out there that’ll take you half the work this one demands.
Most writers want to do one thing above all else: They want to tell stories. Maybe it’s the story of a brand or a company, or maybe it’s a steamy romance plot with many shirtless guys involved. It doesn’t matter because, at its core, writing is a way to take a story and give it to the world.
Your author platform is how you tell the ongoing story of you, specifically the side of you that loves to put words on paper and send them out to eager readers.
That’s why, before you get into the nitty-gritty parts of platform building, you have to know your mission.
The easiest way to do this is to create a mission statement. To do this, you simply need to summarize your biggest, deepest aspirations in one paragraph or less. Easy, right? Okay, maybe not. Here’s an example to help you out.
My mission statement is:
“I am a storyteller who happens to use words as my medium. My mission is to bring stories to life for people who need a little more joy, hope, and color in their lives. I’ll do this whether through works of fiction, such as novels, or through my freelance work, where I tell the stories of companies and brands who have worked hard to make their own goals and missions possible.
Above all, I want my writing to leave people better off than when they started reading it. I will always seek to provide deep, soul-touching value to anyone who takes the time to read what I have written.”
You can be more specific than this, and it’s not uncommon to have different substatements for each part of your larger mission. For example, I have other, more targeted mission statements for each of the different writing areas I undertake.
Once you have this, you’ll have given your platform a beating heart — or as I like to think of it, a strong taproot.
I’ll stick with the tree metaphor throughout this piece, so get used to it!
What Do You Want Your Presence to Do?
Now that you know your overall mission, it’s time to think about how you can promote that mission online. The “how” of your mission statement will eventually become your presence.
Your presence starts with asking the right questions, just like your mission statement did. Do you want to teach people something about a specific topic? Do you want to bring a little passion or imagination into their daily lives?
If you had to target your mission to just one person, your presence is the embodiment of how you’d make it happen. Each branch of your platform tree is a way for you to do just that, and over time you’ll be able to share your writer presence with many wonderful people!
Of course, the tree needs a trunk, and that’s going to be your central platform. Usually, this is a website. It’s best if you own the ground on which your tree is planted, after all, and a domain-registered site is the best and easiest way to do this.
Your website can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, and there is a wealth of resources out there that will teach you how to build an author website from scratch. Definitely give some of them a look before you embark further on this journey.
For perspective, it took me about two days to put together a nice-looking website that has everything I need to function as a professional writer and author. I do keep a blog on there, but only take that path if you can consistently post brand-aligned content — about once a week or so.
Once you have your mission statement and your website address, you can start building your platform tree branches.
Branching Out Your Presence
This is where I’ll bring in those social media sites I mentioned earlier.
Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest are all possible branches you can use to expand and polish your presence in the digital world.
I have to present a word of caution to you, though: Please don’t overdo it. Honestly, as a writer, you should be spending the vast majority of your time writing. If you try to be everywhere at once, you’re going to wear your presence thin, and then you won’t be able to have nearly as much of an impact on people.
So remember to focus on FUN. The social media accounts you choose to make should feel Fulfilling, Uplifting, and Natural for you as an author. Make accounts on sites you know you’ll be able to access and use easily.
From personal experience, I suggest you stick with two to three social accounts beyond your website. Two is ideal, and Facebook should be one of them.
Facebook’s audience is still growing every day, despite what some hand-wringers might tell you in their op-eds.
Okay, Now What Do I Do With All of This?
Great question, disembodied head voice! And as it happens, it’s a question with a straightforward answer that will probably be familiar to authors of all backgrounds.
All you need to do now is…write!
Yep, I’m sure some of you expected a complicated and long-winded answer to this one, but it’s really quite straightforward.
You’re a writer. Your presence on the internet is centered around writing. Any aspect of that presence will start and end with you typing up words and launching them out into the online landscape.
Now, I do want to give you a few specs about how you should be writing on your various platforms because that’s where your mission comes back into play. Generally, there are three things you really need to keep in mind every time you open up your Facebook page or type out a long Instagram caption:
- How does this post serve my mission?
- Why are people going to want to read this?
- How am I going to get this in front of people so that they can read it?
Let’s use another example to illustrate the process. On my author Facebook page, I write mostly to the audience that reads my fiction novels.
These are people like me who love the fantasy and paranormal romance genres. Recently I wrote up a post that listed the different fantasy subgenres and gave a brief overview of each.
If I were to answer those initial three questions with that specific post in mind, it would go like this:
- This post serves my mission by enhancing the overall reading experience for my audience through the sharing of relevant, interesting, and engaging information. It also presents an opportunity for my readers to explore new subgenres they haven’t looked into before.
- People will read this post because readers who love the fantasy genre tend to be interested in all of the different ways it can be presented, so they’ll want to have access to a simple overview like this to be better informed when choosing books to buy.
- I will get this post in front of people by carefully editing my work and making sure it has all of the keywords related to its topic included in the writing. Then I will add an aesthetic picture of a fantasy castle to draw my followers’ attention to the post.
People liked this post a lot, but it didn’t do as well as some others I’ve published. Since I’ve answered these questions, I can now go back and see where I hit the mark and where I may have missed it. This is extremely valuable in and of itself.
Over time, these lessons and reflections will develop into an intuitive sense of what your specific audience likes to see, and you won’t have to guess as much. It will become second nature to produce posts that people love and want to engage with!
When you’re starting, you’ll want to post fairly frequently to build up a good amount of baseline content. This way, readers have more chances to find you, and when they do, they’ll be greeted with an established author presence that they can explore and get to know better.
To sum it all up, you’re going to write on your platform’s carefully selected branches, and you’ll do so in a way that brings pleasure and value to the people who might be interested in your work.
Bringing It All Together
If I had to put together a succinct procedure for a writer to use while building a platform, it would look like this:
1. Purchase a web domain and set up a simple website. Ensure that your home page and other pages contain content aligned with who you are and who you want to be as a writer.
2. Choose between two or three sub-platforms to build a presence on. A list of possible sub-platforms might include:
3. Make a posting schedule and begin writing up posts that align with your mission and brand. Post frequently — perhaps even daily or twice daily for sites like Twitter, which moves quickly — until you’ve built up a decent amount of foundational content for readers to find.
4. Keep referring to your mission and specific goals, and do all you can to learn and adapt your platform to the people you want to build reader relationships with.
With this list, you’ll have built a decent platform. With time and dedication, it can grow into something amazing — and you might be surprised at how it evolves!
Remember Your Larger Purpose
I want to conclude this overview with some basic advice and lessons learned by yours truly because overall, this whole platform process should be an enjoyable part of being a writer. If it feels like a burden, that’s not right.
Think of your platform as a living organism — hence the tree metaphor — that can go through many changes and transformations throughout its lifetime. Your reader audience could be represented by the many other organisms that gain value from this tree, like animals gaining food or moss finding a place to grow on.
When I first started as a platform builder and manager, I was filled with ideas about metrics and monthly analytics reports. I thought that data was what platform creation was all about.
Over time, however, my perspective expanded and became much deeper.
That’s because while metrics and data are helpful, the real power behind a platform can only be seen when you step back and look at the bigger picture.
Maybe this happens after you’ve been around for a while, or maybe it’s based on specific experiences your platform has fostered for you.
Either way, what becomes clear after a while is that your platform is really just a big, ever-growing story. It has a cast of characters (you and your readers), scenes and chapters (your posts), and an overarching theme that defines it (your personal mission and personality).
One of the very best parts of being a writer is connecting with readers through your work, and by engaging with them, you learn some of the most powerful and life-changing lessons you’ll ever encounter.
As a writer, you not only tell stories, but by crafting a platform, you also get to be a story. I can’t imagine it gets any better than that.
So don’t get overwhelmed as you embark on this journey. You are a protagonist setting off on a grand adventure, and each step of the way will bring you new skills and knowledge that will, in time, change the way you see the world.
There will be mistakes and challenges, it’s true, but I’ve never heard of a hero who doesn’t have more than a few of those under their belt. In a few months, then in a few years after that, you’re going to look back on this journey through the eyes of a more experienced, more successful writer than you were at its start.
It all starts with Chapter 1, where you decide to tell the universe that yes, you are a writer — and here’s why. After that, it’s all about putting down roots and letting yourself grow.
I can’t wait to see how high your branches soar.